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[Tidbits] Shadow Clock

How old is the oldest clock you ask? If the Old Testament was written
somewhere around 1450 B.C… then the first clock was created a
scant 450 years later… somewhere around 1000 B.C. It looked a bit
like a T… with the top facing east before noon and then turned to
face west after noon. The shadow formed at the base told the hours.

There is another Shadow Clock that was unearthed during excavations
in Egypt which consisted of a wall and a flight of steps. The
principal is essentially the same as the Shadow Clock mentioned
above. As the shadow of the wall fell across the steps… the number
of steps covered by the shadow told the hour.

The dial of the Shadow Clock is mentioned in the Second Book of Kings
in the Old Testament. I won’t quote the whole passage as this might
tend to border on tedium and we all know we wouldn’t want that. Still
for those who want to delve into this… the passage begins with:
“And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah…”

And although I am going to be showing you an Egyptian Shadow Clock in
the form of a T… another form of a shadow clock was the obelisk…
a vertical spire around which a circle was formed demarcating the
hours by the shadows formed by the sun. I mention this type because
there’s a fascinating aspect to it. The Egyptians observed that when
the shadow of the obelisk was at it’s shortest … it always pointed
in the same direction… regardless of the season. Today we call this
direction the meridian… a line joining north and south.

So… imagine you’re lost in the desert somewhere. It’s daylight.
Sand all around you. No landmarks. No compass. No watch. No nothing
… except for a twig you happen to be carrying around in your back
pocket. If I remember correctly… the book on desert-traveling
clearly states… and I quote: “Ye who shall travel the deserts
shall keep a twig in thine back pocket.” This is not without sound

You need direction. It is still early. You grab thine twig and stick
it deep into the sand… and you wait for the shadow to be the
shortest … and now you have a line going north to south. And you
can start walking in the direction of your choice. Except that is…
for one little thing. Which direction is north… and which direction
is south? I say take your pick. You’ve got a fifty-fifty chance of
getting out of there alive… which is a whole lot better than if you
didn’t have a twig at all.

Which brings us to that ancient but wise saying which states… and I
quote: “A man is not worth his weight in shekels if he does not have
his twig.” Rumor has is that there are some out there who have
re-written this adage and have changed the word “twig” to “trunk”. I
do not understand the concept behind this thinking. In any case…
the wisdom behind the old adage is immeasurable. Compasses break.
Watches stop. But a twig is forever. Or something. I don’t know.

For those of you who are new to this thing called Tidbits…may I
direct you to my home page at where you will
scroll down the left side menu till you get to the area that says
Current Tidbits… and then click on it in order to view an Egyptian
Shadow Clock.

And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.
Benjamin Mark


You are correct in stating that the shadow of the stick delineates a
N-S meridian when it is shortest. But you don’t have to guess which
is North. In the Northern hemisphere, the end of the shadow NOT
attached to the stick points North. If you are on the Equator, the
shadow proceeds in a West to East direction ONLY.

And you don’t have to wait until the sun is casting the shortest
shadow, either, to determine direction. Just mark the end of the
cast shadow, wait a few minutes and mark the new end. A line
connecting the FIRST mark with the SECOND runs roughly West to East
(depending on time of year) and a line perpendicular to that runs

On a clear night, just locate Polaris (the North star). A line drawn
from it straight down to the horizon indicates true North. If you
don’t know where Polaris is, find the Big Dipper. Look at the two
stars that form the non-handle end of the Dipper’s bowl. Extend a
line from the bottom star through the top star. The first star you
come to (about five “bowl depths” away) is Polaris.

All good recon folks have a compass, but should also carry a sewing
kit. If you lose your compass, take the steel needle and repeatedly
stroke it one direction with another piece of steel (like your
trusty K-Bar knife or the barrel of your M-16). This will magnetize
the needle. Then place the needle on a piece of dry leaf or weed,
and place those objects in a pool of still water…the needle will
swing to a N-S direction…and the brightest part of the sky is
South…and moss can grow on any side of the tree.

Native Aleuts and others who live in the far North navigate hundreds
of miles by sled even in blizzards or when there is no sun, or at
night, by orienting themselves properly to the prevailing winds. The
winds create wave riffles in the snow called sastrugae, and the
native peoples, knowing the direction of the prevailing winds at
different times of the year, navigate very accurately using the

Also, if you are in the open and it is Spring or Summer, look very
closely for flowering plants or grasses, some of which can be tiny.
Around mid-day, the flowers and broadest leaves on flexible plants
will tend to face in a Southerly direction.

All of which has nothing to do with jewelry and is of no help
locating a rest room in a strange city.

Wayne Emery, CPT USA
Recon Team Arizona
Special Operations Group
9th SFG USARV 1968-71
The Gemcutter

Well Wayne,

Your response to the Shadow Clock is fascinating to say the least. I
love this kind of stuff. If I ever take off on an exploratory
expedition of one sort or another into unknown territories… I hope
you don’t mind if I enlist your services. I have a feeling you might
end up being a tad useful.

Thanks for the info. Greatly appreciated.

Hi Wayne,

Loved to read your post on directions. Reminded me of Girl Scout
camping/hiking. It’s amazing what resources are available to us
through nature if we just pay attention! Thanks for the reminder.

Jenny Levernier
jmml designs
Minneapolis, MN